Transfiguration Sunday:  Why Do We Celebrate It Before Lent?

The background of this question lies in the differing practices of Christians in North America. United Methodists and many other denominations schedule the observance of the Transfiguration on the Sunday before Lent. There are three different times when the Transfiguration is commemorated and celebrated:

  1. Roman Catholics celebrate the Transfiguration on the second Sunday of Lent.
  2. Most other denominations following a liturgical calendar, including those that follow The Revised Common Lectionary (United Methodists are part of this group), celebrate it on the last Sunday after the Epiphany (the Sunday before Ash Wednesday).
  3. On the calendar of "Holy Days," liturgical churches observe the Transfiguration on August 6.

Why does the celebration of the Transfiguration take place just before Lent in United Methodist and other denominations that follow The Revised Common Lectionary?

The Book of Common Prayer collect for the Last Sunday after the Epiphany suggests why the Transfiguration of Our Lord is celebrated when it is:

O God, who before the passion of your only-begotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

(Book of Common Prayer according to the use of the Episcopal Church, 1979, page 217. Book of Common Prayer is public domain material and is used here with gratitude to the Episcopal Church and Church Publishing.)

We celebrate the revelation of Christ's glory "before the passion" so that we may "be strengthened to bear our cross and be changed into his likeness." The focus of the Lenten season is renewed discipline in walking in the way of the cross and rediscovery of the baptismal renunciation of evil and sin and our daily adherence to Christ. At Easter, which reveals the fullness of Christ’s glory (foreshadowed in the Transfiguration), Christians give themselves anew to the gospel at the Easter Vigil where they share the dying and rising of Christ.

In the biblical context, the synoptic gospels narrate the Transfiguration as a bridge between Jesus' public ministry and his passion. From the time of the Transfiguration, Jesus sets his face to go to Jerusalem and the cross.

Categories: Lectionary Calendar, Civil Observances, Other, Sundays After Epiphany

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